The future of NTT IndyCar Series championship leader Alex Palou and 106thIndianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson has been the focus of much speculation during the first half of the 2022 IndyCar Series season.
But David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing revealed to me and Indianapolis Star reporter Nathan Brown at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on June 30 that he is leaving the IndyCar team at the end of this season.
He hopes to sign with a bigger IndyCar operation that can help the 21-year-old from Chicago achieve his racing goals.
“From the Dale Coyne side, my contract ends this year and we have not had negotiations to start the contract again,” Malukas told me and Brown last weekend. “We are very much talking to other teams and there are plenty of offers from people that still want me. It’s looking very good for next year.
“The trajectory, as of now, we will not with Dale Coyne for next year and will be with someone else.”
Malukas said it was a mutual agreement. The driver wanted to go elsewhere.
“There are many seats available for 2024, but going into it, we wanted to continue with Dale Coyne Racing and make it work and turn it into a team that other people talk about,” Malukas said. “That’s why we signed a two-year deal.
“We didn’t want it to be a ‘come and go’ option.”
Where Malukas ends up in 2022 depends on what happens with some of the bigger names that are in play at Chip Ganassi Racing, and other teams in IndyCar.
Palou is under contract with Chip Ganassi Racing for the remainder of this season but signed a contract with McLaren that begins in 2024. That could be as a member of the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team or possibly the McLaren Formula One team.
Unlike last year at this time when it was revealed that Palou had signed a deal with McLaren while still under contract with Chip Ganassi Racing, the driver has kept his future cloudy.
“I don’t know,” Palou said when asked where he will drive in 2024. “Honestly, I don’t know. But, yeah, that day will come. That day will come maybe two months, three, four. I don’t know. Maybe once the season is over, maybe later. We’ll see.
“Yeah, that day will come. It will be exciting, I guess.”
Palou’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing, last year’s Indy 500 winner Ericsson, is convinced his teammate has a signed contract with McLaren for 2024.
Ericsson is the driver of the No. 8 Huski Ice Spritz Honda at Chip Ganassi Racing and has been vocal that he has not been offered a deal by the team when this contract concludes at the end of this season.
Ericsson cannot talk to another IndyCar team until August. However, teams such as Andretti Autosport, Arrow McLaren, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and a few others would love to have the driver from Sweden on their IndyCar team for next season.
Ericsson draws a salary from Chip Ganassi Racing, but he considers himself a “paying” driver because he had to bring sponsorship to the team to get the No. 8 ride. Although this is not ideal for a major league racing series, it is common with some teams in the series that are willing to expand their lineup beyond fully funded operations.
Ericsson has become an IndyCar star after competing in 97 Formula One World Championship contests throughout his career. He came to the United States to compete in IndyCar with Arrow Schmidt Peterson in 2019, before moving over to Chip Ganassi Racing in 2020.
Since that time, Ericsson has won four races including the 2022 Indianapolis 500, came close to winning it a second-straight year earlier this season and is fourth in the battle to the NTT IndyCar Series championship in 2023.
But, as the series is just past the halfway point of the season, he does not have a deal with Chip Ganassi Racing and is generating interest from other team owners.
He also wants to be considered for the No. 10 Honda at Chip Ganassi Racing that currently leads the standings with Palou behind the wheel.
There is a big reason why switching from the No. 8 to No. 10 entries is important. Palou’s No. 10 crew has separate oval and road course cars. Ericsson’s No. 8 team has one car that has to be switched over from oval to road course setup. The ability to have the oval car sitting in the shop while the road course car is competing, and vice-versa, is a big advantage to a racing operation.
Also, the No. 10 ride at Chip Ganassi Racing has tremendous heritage beginning with Arie Luyendyk winning the Indianapolis 500 pole in 1993. Jimmy Vasser was in the No. 10 in 2000, Dan Wheldon drove the No. 10 in 2006-2008 before Dario Franchitti scored three of his four IndyCar Series championships and two of his three Indianapolis 500 victories in that ride from 2009 to 2012.
When Franchitti’s career came to an end in 2013, Tony Kanaan took over the No. 10 from 2014 to 2017.
Following two years with Felix Rosenqvist in the No 10 in 2019 and 2020, Palou drove the No. 10 to the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series championship in this first season with Ganassi.
Palou has a 110-point lead over CGR teammate Scott Dixon in the IndyCar Series championship race with nine of the 17 races completed. He has won four of the last five IndyCar races including the last three in a row.
It would be hard to imagine letting his talent get away from Chip Ganassi Racing, but assuming he does leave for McLaren, Ericsson believes he deserves to move up in the lineup at CGR and get rewarded for his accomplishments.
Should that happen, it could open a place for the young Malukas to get a ride that will help him excel in IndyCar at a bigger team.
“We started off strong, which surprised everybody because we had a lot of changes with the team, a lot of new people in engineering, a lot of new mechanics,” Malukas explained. “Even throughout the season, we’ve had new people. We had a brand-new DAG (Data Acquisition Engineer) in the Indianapolis 500. We’ve had new people almost every race and haven’t been able to build chemistry. That is definitely one of the issues.
“It’s a collective of things, but we have been struggling. It’s tough. A team like Dale Coyne Racing, we don’t have some of the people that Roger Penske does and Chip Ganassi do. The guys work so hard, day and night and working their butts off and don’t get the result. Morale starts to decrease on the team, and I can see, and I can sense it.
“I can only give so many doughnuts to keep the team happy. A result is very much needed.”
Malukas said the June race in Road America gave his team hope entering last weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
But Malukas doesn’t believe that Dale Coyne Racing can help him achieve his racing dream.
Dale Coyne runs one of the smallest team in the NTT IndyCar Series and is based in Plainfield, Illinois off the Adlai Stevenson Expressway (Interstate 55) southwest of Chicago.
It’s away from the noise of Indianapolis – the center of the IndyCar universe.
Coyne also runs an extremely efficient team and his cars ae often very competitive against the bigger, more successful teams in the series.
Last year when Malukas was a 20-year-old rookie, he was paired with two-time Indianapolis winning driver Takuma Sato. This year, DCR
Malukas is the son of Chicago trucking magnate Henry Malukas, a Lithuanian immigrant who was a professional racer and owns HMD Motorsports. This year, HMD has 11 drivers in the INDY
HMD also has a massive new racing facility under construction in Brownsburg, Indiana and has served as a partner with Dale Coyne Racing.
“Going into it, I was expecting to do it in a different way,” Malukas said in response to my question at Mid-Ohio. “We didn’t sign a one-year deal with Dale, we wanted to sign a two-year deal to work and help with the team.
“We’ve tried a lot from our end, especially trying to bring in people from HMD Motorsports side and bringing people from different sectors trying to help the team grow and get some involvement there.
“Things didn’t work out the way we wanted it to. That’s why we didn’t sign another renew for the contract, we will go somewhere else.
“It all comes to losing a few key people that we didn’t want to lose.”
Malukas believes he has brighter prospects elsewhere. He believes a change in scenery is what he needs at this point in his very young career.
“Dale is very, very impressive, very good with what they do and the people they have, but the way things have been going, it’s not the chemistry we really wanted to from the start,” Malukas said. “Going to a different team, a bigger team, in a different environment will help from my end.
“It can always change. If we start going in the right trajectory, maybe that answer will change.”